Wisconsin's Republican Gov. Scott Walker is almost certain to run for president. He's got two blue state election victories under his belt, ravening anti-union bona fides, and a record that would make him the most conservative presidential candidate in at least 50 years. Best of all, he's got a pleasant, mild demeanor — none of the bug-eyed nutcase affect of other right-wingers.
However, he's recently run into some budget troubles. Back in 2013, Wisconsin had a sizable budget surplus. Walker did what conservatives always do: he passed $2 billion in tax cuts heavily weighted towards the rich, blowing through the entire surplus and then some. Now he's resorting to financial chicanery to avoid default:
Scott Walker, facing a $283 million deficit that needs to be closed by the end of June, will skip more than $100 million in debt payments to balance the books thrown into disarray by his tax cuts. [Bloomberg]
Whether Walker — who has surrounded himself with Ronald Reagan's crackpot voodoo economists — can talk his way out of this will be a big political question. But this does demonstrate a fundamental truth of American politics: conservatives don't care, at all, about deficits or debt. They use deficit concern trolling as a convenient excuse to cut social insurance and other benefits. But when it comes down to brass tacks, they choose larger deficits, not smaller.
To be clear, Walker's move is perfectly legal. But it's just a delaying tactic, and it will cost more in the future. Per Bloomberg's analysis, it will increase debt service payments "by $545,000 in the next budget year, which starts July 1, and by $18.7 million in the one after that."
Kansas' Sam Brownback, another Republican governor, did the exact same thing to his state. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another possible 2016 contender, has the same problems as Walker, only worse — his budget hole is $1.6 billion. He passed massive tax cuts early in his term, and has spent the rest of the time cutting services, especially higher education, to the bone in a desperate, futile bid to make up the shortfall. He won't rescind the tax cuts, of course.
And when collapsing oil revenues turned the budget problem into a full-blown crisis, Jindal began raiding every change jar in the state to keep Louisiana from defaulting outright, including selling state property and burning through all manner of special reserve funds.
The Republican Party has gone precisely nowhere on fiscal policy since 2000, when President George W. Bush pulled this exact same trick. He took the Clinton surplus and spent it on tax cuts for the rich. The following eight years, incidentally, resulted in the worst economic performance since Herbert Hoover.
Policy-wise, there isn't that much to learn from this, other than conservatives produce absolutely atrocious economic policy. But we already knew that.
However, there are two political lessons. For liberals, very much including President Obama, it implies that any hard work done reducing the budget deficit will be immediately negated the moment Republicans get a chance. All of Obama's cherished deficit reduction — accomplished at gruesome cost to the American people — will go straight to the 1 percent if Walker (or Jindal, or Jeb Bush) is elected.
Second, for paid-up members of the centrist austerity cult, who worship a falling deficit like some kind of fetish object, realize that Republicans are lying to your face. If you genuinely care about the deficit, the GOP is not going to deliver.